1991 was an interesting time for Sam Neill and Armand Assante. Both were on the cusp of hitting it big in some timeless titles. For Neill, he was in between some of the biggest releases in his career, The Hunt for Red October, Jurassic Park and The Piano, Neill was exceptionally busy. Assante was part of the much lower key, Q&A, The Mambo Kings and 1492: Conquest of Paradise. However, the two took the time to do a curious TV movie for HBO in 1991 called Fever.
Neill plays Elliott, a decidedly nice Lawyer with a BMW 3 series, gym membership and respectable chalet bungalow. His girlfriend Lacy, Marcia Gay Harden, has a known chequered past and spends her days helping people with addiction. Rolling out of prison is Ray, Assante, who had been working on himself to be a better person. Ray plans to rekindle his relationship with Lacy, proving to her he has changed whilst being upfront about it with Elliott.
This sounds like a fairly interesting relationship drama as Lacy is torn, however, there is more. An adversary of Ray’s from prison orchestrates the abduction of Lacy as leverage to have Ray embark on a series of missions to destroy a local kingpin. In an effort to save Lacy, Elliott insists on tagging along as the two men carry out the requests whilst hunting for Lacy.
The film is pretty packed with plot, unfortunately it does not have time to deal with some of the smaller details, nor is it able to sit down and work out the dramas of the initial plotline. To be fair, that’s a storyline we have seen time and time again. One curiosity was the extreme close up nature of the shots, we get up close and personal with the characters on a multitude of occasions as the typical close up is a much tighter shot. Director Larry Elikann spent his career directing TV movies and TV shows and perhaps it’s just his thing, however, I can’t say I have ever noticed just how close we get to the principals, as we do in Fever.
Fever is light on action, despite the addressing of the additional abduction addendum sounding infinitely more exciting. Given the title, one of the ideas in the film is the “Fever.” As Elliott pulls his weight on the tasks he begins to feel the power that wielding a gun and operating above the law has on him. He is struck by the Fever, and once on that path… well… the 90 minute runtime isn’t going to give you any answers.
Neill is the main focus of the storyline as he wrestles with the situation he has been thrust into. Frustrated, he is helpless and has to follow the direction of Assante, as he is an unwelcome guest in Ray’s world. Ray is functional, running around doing what is required, being a tough guy and seems to know who to go to for answers, whilst having Gregg Henry as a pal with connections and resources. There is a lighter moment when Ray introduces Elliott as “Butch” and this sticks for the rest of the film.
Meanwhile Lacy is tied up with the goons who are controlling her two love interests. One is the boss, one is a nice to her and the other one will rape her as soon as given the opportunity. Harden is fantastic in these sequences, drawing upon courage from her past whilst plotting an escape and fearing for Elliott and Ray as they run around breaking the law.
Assante is no stranger to playing the tough guy and works well here. Much like Elliott and Lacy, this is a role with two layers, the tough guy and the guy attempting to go straight, however, is much less of a challenge for Assante. As Ray and Elliott bond during the experience we see a little respect build between the characters. Make no mistake, this isn’t a Buddy movie, Ray isn’t going to be visiting at Christmas if Lacy chooses Elliott when all is said and done.
The biggest problem with Fever is the climax. If you have ever seen a cop procedural or courtroom drama you are going to have a list of problems the authorities have with the events depicted in the film. Guns, murder and arson will see Ray, Elliott and Lacy chewed up by the justice system, however, we have an ending that sees the police arrive and the final character’s can rest easy. The most realistic scenario is Fever is a plot for a TV show about the ensuing court case, 100’s of hours of questioning and evidence collection etc.
Fever isn’t great, but it’s incredibly watchable thanks to some terrific performances. It does not have the time to flesh out some of it’s more unique ideas into anything meaningful. There isn’t much action and the dramatic moments are glossed over. Even when it gets to the crux of the story, Lacy choosing Ray or Elliot, is a tiny moment between other pressures.
Fever went straight to TV and then arrived on VHS and DVD a few years later. I had the VHS, notably rated 18 and depicting one of two short, tame nudie bits on the cover.
I would not say that Fever is worth tracking down, it does exist out there on both DVD and VHS, however, it’s only worth checking out if you have a vested interest in on of the leads.
Fever is on Amazon as an import of the Region 1 DVD. It’s quite costly at the time of writing. The Region 4 can be found on Ebay and is quite a bit cheaper too.
This is more than likely the end of the line for Fever, despite Sam Neill’s presence I wouldn’t imagine it would be cleaned up for bluray or 4K, however, it might pop up on HBO’s streaming service in the US.